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Toxicol Sci. 2011 Apr;120(2):507-18. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr005. Epub 2011 Jan 18.

Natural killer cells mediate severe liver injury in a murine model of halothane hepatitis.

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  • 1Cell and Molecular Biology Program, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1302, USA.


Severe halothane (HAL)-induced hepatotoxicity occurs in one in 6000-30,000 patients by an unknown mechanism. Female sex is a risk factor in humans and rodents. We tested the hypothesis that a sex difference in natural killer (NK) cell activity contributes to HAL-induced liver injury. HAL (15 mmol/kg, ip) treatment resulted in severe liver injury by 12 h in female, wild-type BALB/cJ mice, and the magnitude of liver injury varied with stage of the estrous cycle. Ovariectomized (OVX) mice developed only mild liver injury. Plasma interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) was elevated 10-fold in HAL-treated females compared with similarly treated male mice or with OVX female mice. IFN-γ knockout mice were resistant to severe HAL-induced liver injury. The deactivation of NK cells with anti-asialo GM1 treatment attenuated liver injury and the increase in plasma IFN-γ compared with immunoglobulin G-treated control mice. Mice with a mutated form of perforin, a protein involved in granule-mediated cytotoxicity, were protected from severe liver injury. Furthermore, HAL increased the activity of NK cells in vivo, as indicated by increased surface expression of CD69, an early activation marker. In response to HAL, NK cell receptor ligands on the surface of hepatocytes were expressed in a manner that can activate NK cells. These results confirm the sexual dimorphic hepatotoxic response to HAL in mice and suggest that IFN-γ and NK cells have essential roles in the development of severe HAL-induced hepatotoxicity.

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